Businesses fear for future aid

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WIGAN’S Chamber chief says she is worried about the future after it was announced that the region’s Business Link service is to be axed.

The Prime Minister revealed that the long-running North West networking and advice aid to local firms would be scrapped along with its other English counterparts to be replaced with a single, streamlined national service.

Business Link North West had already shed 194 jobs under a cuts programme unveiled last September and now its remaining 144 staff are waiting to find out whether they have a role to play under the new, leaner system which will come into play later this year.

The organisation has undergone several incarnations over the years and was most successful in Wigan when it had a very local presence and teamed up with the council and Chamber of Commerce to form Wigan Borough Partnership which was held up as a national role model.

But this wasn’t to last and Miranda Barker, Wigan President of Greater Manchester Chamber, fears that what happened next may be replicated to the detriment of local businesses.

She said: “After that successful partnership we had a very dark period when we had low paid, badly qualified advisers undercutting local businesses.

“In the last couple of years, despite having to battle an image problem, they have pulled themselves around and become a fair operation putting businesses in touch with each other again. In the North West under Pete Watson it has had some very good results but it has not worked so well in all parts of the country and now the good is being thrown out with the not so good.

“I worry about the future. I am fearful that, with not a lot of money around, we might go back to the old days and we will have a flood of low paid advisers who they send out to dispense sub-standard support to businesses and undermine the market for established local professionals in fields such as accountancy, health and safety and environmental matters.

“Although Business Link has had good and bad press recently it is a good model and I am sorry to see it go, not least because it is impartial.”

Donna Edwards, Managing Director of Business Link North West, said: “Although we face a period of significant change, our activity remains focused on our customers. We will continue to support the recovery of the North West economy during 2011.”